October 11, 2009
So frequently a country divided, Palestinians up and down the West Bank are now united in outrage over the PLO’s failure to approve the Goldstone report. Daily demonstrations are keeping the PA on their toes, wary that heavy handed policing would constitute another PR disaster. A diverse mix of political groups; communists, fundamentalists and opportunists flood the streets of Ramallah demanding an explanation for Abu Marzen’s baffling decision.
Away from the Goldstone report the IDF is keeping PA military on a tighter leash by forcing high ranking soldiers to sign contracts pledging never to oppose Israel. People who don’t sign them get killed. The PA continues to arrest Israeli targets and generally act as loyal deputies.
Jerusalem remains a hotbed of tension while Zionist pilgrims occupy Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest Muslim site in the world. Draconian rules keep out all Muslim worshippers under 45 (or 50 for men), while freely admitting French tourists. Despite prominent Rabbis insisting the site has no religious or historical significance for Jews, it is expected the pilgrims will remain until the end of Sukkot. Fatah have called for nonviolent resistance, Hamas want them out by any means necessary. Expect more skirmishes between stone throwing youths and soldiers using tear gas, but it seems unlikely that violence will escalate beyond this.
It’s harvest time, so treatment of West Bank farmers becomes more of an issue. Already blighted by a lack of water resources, farmers are now seeing their land cut to pieces by new sections of the wall. The problem is most severe in Qalqilya, surrounded on all sides by the wall, where enough olive trees have been handed over to settlements that they can now produce their own brand olive oil. Settler violence against farmers and their crops is increasing, with two farmers killed last week. Domestic trade is suffering from lengthy delays at checkpoints that cause millions of dollars worth of produce to rot in the sun.
Drugs and prostitution are growing as a problem, with whole villages given over to these trades. There are few border controls for dealers and the PA and IDF play a role in trafficking. It is universal consensus among Ramallans that the influx of drugs and sex workers are part of a plot to destroy the Muslim way of life. While such theories border on hysterical paranoia, true stories of Arab TV channels being taken off air and replaced by Israeli porn help you understand why people will put nothing past the Israelis.
Typical flashpoints where the wall is being built (Bilin, Ni’lin) still result in serious injuries every Friday but it seems to be a new policy that soldiers aim to arrest people rather than shoot them. Also the wall is nearly finished in these areas so confrontations are not as intense.
Track two negotiations, including ones hosted by Americans, continue on water with Israel laughing at all obligations and demanding Palestinians find some miracle new source that doesn’t exist. The Western Aquifer is not up for debate.
Not much is hoped of the reconciliation in Cairo next week. Hamas don’t want a lot to do with a discredited government and any deal would be pretty superficial anyway. If there is an election soon, which few believe, it will be to determine the lesser evil rather than who inspires genuine optimism.